Facebook Raises Carbon – and Ire – in Denmark

by | Feb 13, 2017

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Last month, the social-media giant Facebook announced plans to build a third foreign data center near Odense, Denmark – using a similar energy efficiency design to those the company already has in place in Lulea, Sweden, and Clonee, Ireland.

“The Odense data center will be one of the most advanced, energy efficient data centers in the world,” Facebook’s Director of Data Center Operations Niall McEntegart told local newspaper Fyens.dk at that time.

The company explained that it needed more server capacity to support “richer content” such as live-streaming and virtual reality.

However, recent reports by Rasmus Svaeborg for the Danish newspaper Informatíon – picked up by the U.S. blog Alternet – tell a different story: What may resemble, at least in the view from Silicon Valley, an exercise in green corporate responsibility will actually mean a big increase in Denmark’s contribution to greenhouse warming, according to the Danish news outlet.

Data centers consume huge amounts of electricity to power servers and keep them cooled down. The Danish government estimates that server farms now planned or under construction—primarily Facebook’s and another being built by Apple in the town of Viborgwill add 4 million mWh, or about 13 percent, to the nation’s current annual electricity consumption.

Between now and 2040, server farms will account for a massive one-third of the expected increase in Denmark’s electricity demand, the government said.

Facebook and Apple are eager for their new data centers to share the bright green aura that surrounds Denmark’s strong wind-energy commitment, the Danish news outlet said. But, according to the report in Informatíon, only about 50 percent of the nation’s energy is supplied by renewable sources, so there’s no spare green energy available to cover Silicon Valley’s needs. Therefore, the increase in national power use spurred by the new facilities will have to be generated from nonrenewable sources.

So, in reality, the two U.S. high-tech companies will be boosting carbon emissions in Denmark. Indeed, under the European Union’s carbon emissions quota system, the server-powered increase in Denmark’s emissions is supposed to be balanced by reductions in other countries’ emissions, the news outlet said. However, that is not in the cards.

Svaneborg quoted Peter Birch Sørensen, chair of the Danish government’s Climate Council, who explained, “There is still a huge surplus of allowances [in the EU system], so increased emissions from Denmark will not cause lower emissions from other EU countries.”

The article’s author said, “Global efforts to curb greenhouse emissions were derailed last year by American voters. And America’s image-conscious corporations are doing nothing to get things back on track when they play the ‘powered by 100 percent renewable energy’ shell game.”

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